This is new. The Jaguars are on a two game win streak. A three game win streak would be monumental for a team that has not won three in a row since 2010.
Watching the Jaguars actually play from behind last Sunday, staying in the game, and seeing Cecil Shorts III completely burn Joe Haden for the game winning touchdown…well, it’s just something I’m not used to seeing. I’m not in the business of looking back, though. In the spirit of Coach Bradley, I’m looking forward to the next game, looking for improvement and progress.
Can the Jaguars make it three in a row? It won’t be easy.
Two weeks ago after the Jaguars beat the Texans in Houston, Andre Johnson flat out said that it felt like the lowest point of his career. What does this mean? It means that Houston will not be sucker punched. It means that even though Houston probably prepared for the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago, they probably did so without thinking that Bradley’s team could actually give them a hard time, let alone win. This time will be different. Jacksonville’s division rival will be out for blood, and even though this is a feature of a 2-10 team vs. a 3-9 team, this game could be pretty exciting to watch.
In their previous meeting, Andre Johnson was held to two catches for 36 yards. Look for Johnson to be involved early and often. Johnson is still one of the best, and will be going against a secondary that will feature a 2nd year player in Winston Guy who will be making his first career start. As far as combatting Johnson, the best defense against the pass has always been and forever will be rushing the passer. Case Keenum has been making more and more mistakes as the season has progressed, and if the Jaguars want to neutralize Houston’s top receiving threat it will be up to Jacksonville’s front four to apply pressure and force the young QB into more of these kinds of mistakes. Jeremy Mincey is returning to the lineup which should help, but really the players I’ll be looking to for pressure will be Sen’Derrick Marks and Andre Branch.
Marks has become a force up the middle, and has quickly become Caldwell’s top free agent signing. Last week alone, Marks had a sack, 3 tackles, and a forced fumble. He’s able to collapse the pocket, and whenever pressure breaks up the middle it can make any quarterback’s day difficult. Let’s not forget Marks’ ability to swat down passes at the line of scrimmage either. He has 8 passes defensed on the year. Andre Branch is a player who I wasn’t too high on coming into the season. He seemed immature, and honestly I didn’t see any kind of natural pass rush ability there. Well, he’s proving me wrong. Let’s get this straight. Branch is not some world beating defensive end, but he’s definitely a player that is making noticeable improvement in his play. In his last 3 games, Branch has two sacks and is moving with more ease around the edges. He’s becoming more noticeable, pushing the pocket, and is obviously maturing in his game.
Over the last three weeks, the Jaguars defense has done one thing particularly well-stop the run. They’ve held their last four opponents to under 100 yards rushing, and that trend has to continue on Thursday night. Ben Tate is coming off his best game of the season, gashing New England for 102 yards and three TDs. Houston failed to find much running room in their last meeting with Jacksonville, but something tells me they will be more committed to the run in this second matchup. Houston attempted 34 passes in their last meeting versus 20 attempts rushing. If Keenum proves to be prone to mistakes on Thursday night, they could go to the run. The Jaguars have to yet again stuff the run and force the young QB to beat them.
Jedd Fisch has said that the offensive improvement, especially when running the ball, boils down to better execution. The run game has seen a major boost over the last two weeks, seeing Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman rush for over 100 yards collectively. The Jaguars must continue to execute more effectively, and find ways to run the ball. A far as passing goes, Chad Henne must continue to be efficient. He’s not spectacular by any means, but he must continue to make the throws he needs to make and not give the game away. In a nutshell, Henne must remain a serviceable game manager who can get the ball into the hands of Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders.
The Houston Texans are a formidable opponent. They still rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense regardless of record and are fully capable of opening up a can on the home team this Thursday night, especially against a team that hasn’t necessarily played well at home over the last two seasons. Stay tuned folks. This one has all the makings of a knockdown drag out.
-David R. Johns